“…in the ancient Near East the idea of a single community across the traditional boundaries of culture, gender, and ethnic and social groupings was unheard of. Unthinkable, in fact. But there it was. A new kind of ‘family’ had come into existence. Its focus of identity was Jesus; its manner of life was shaped by Jesus; its characteristic mark was believing allegiance to Jesus.”
— N. T. Wright, Paul: A Biography
If there’s one thing about the church that almost everyone in the United States can agree on today, it’s that people are leaving in droves. Turn on any news story about the church, read any op-ed column about the church, one take-away is sure to be: a lot of people are leaving church.
And, it may seem like, as a pastor, I have a vested interest in propping up the church. Someone might think that I’d never leave a church or a denomination or advise others to do so—but they’d be wrong. Osheta and I have left churches and denominations. There are absolutely legitimate reasons for leaving church. Abuse and corruption are just a few examples. I once left a role working for a church because the pastor I was working for was stealing money from a mentoring program I started that was funded through the U.S. Department of Justice. We’ve also left churches with toxic cultures, authoritarian and narcissistic pastors.
But what we haven’t left, and what people in general don’t leave, are close, formative relationships—relationships that stand the test of time, relationships that change how we see the world, friends that are more than friends—friends that are family. No matter where you live, no matter what life-stage you’re in, no matter your demographics, we all cherish our chosen family.
And often our chosen family relationships are the most hard-fought. You’ve gone through many ups and downs. You’ve felt hurt and you’ve reconciled. You’ve misunderstood them and you’ve been misunderstood. But you’ve stuck it out and you’re closer because of it. They’re not just chosen family, they’re forged family. People don’t leave these kind of relationships. These are the relationships that sustain us when we’re depleted. These are the relationships that make us who we are.
From now until Advent in November, we’re starting a new teaching and dialogue series here at Roots where we’re going to explore these relationships and Pastor Osheta and I are going to make a bold claim that we believe is supported by experience, history, reason, and scripture.
What if the ‘church’ Jesus founded isn’t the institutions, the hierarchical structures, and the brands that people have been leaving for legitimate reasons? What if the ‘church’ Jesus founded is actually forged family?
In this series, we’re going to see that Jesus didn’t found a bureaucracy, he founded a family. And we’re going to see that being family for one another isn’t easy. It requires commitment and grit, but it’s also the way that God is remaking the world.